For years I was confused by what seemed like dueling philosophies. The first held that in order to succeed, in order to build wealth, you must delay gratification. In other words, sacrifice today so you might live well in the future. The competing message was to live every day like it was your last--enjoy it while you can. I agree with both philosophies, and I've managed to reconcile the two messages into one: Live life now and enjoy it to the fullest -- without destroying your future. The key to that? Find ways to enjoy life completely, utterly, maximally ... frugally.
Here are some tips to help you live that philosophy:
Find free or cheap pleasures. Frugality does not have to be boring or restrictive ... if you use your imagination. Be creative and find ways to have fun - loads of it - without spending much money. Have a picnic at the park, go to the beach, do crafts, board games, fly a kite, make art, bake cookies ... I could list a hundred things, and you could come up with a few hundred more. Make a list of simple pleasures, and enjoy them to the maximum. This is the key to the whole idea of enjoying life now without spending tomorrow's dollar.
Make simplifying fun. I'm a big fan of simplifying my life, from decluttering to creating a simple lifestyle in every way. And to me, this is great fun. I get rid of stuff (and possibly make money selling it) and have a blast doing it. That's good math.
Rediscover what's important. Oftentimes we spend tons of money, shopping, going out, watching movies, eating out ... without really enjoying life. And when we stop to think about it, we never have time for the things we really want to do. Well, that's probably because your life is filled with things that aren't very important to you. Instead, step back and really think about what's important to you. Then get rid of the other (expensive) stuff, and focus on what's important. My own list includes: my wife and kids, other friends and family, reading, writing, exercising, volunteering, spending quiet time in contemplation. Guess how many of those things cost a lot of money?
Make people a priority. If you give "stuff" a priority - the latest gadgets, nice furnishings, fashionable clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc. - then you will spend a lot of money. But if you make people a priority - the people you love most, your close friends and family - you don't need to spend a dime to enjoy life. Make some time to visit with friends, or your parents ... and have a conversation with them that doesn't involve eating out or going to the movies. Just sit, have some iced tea or hot cocoa (depending on the weather), and talk. Tell jokes and laugh your heads off. Talk about books you've read, movies you've watched, new things going on in your life, your hopes and dreams. And make time for your kids or your significant other - really spend time with them, doing things that don't cost money.
Find time for yourself. Make time every day, and every week, to spend time alone. It really gives more meaning and enjoyment to your life, rather than rushing through life with no time to think, to breathe.
Sometimes, splurge. You shouldn't always restrict yourself from expensive pleasures - it's not good to develop the feeling of deprivation. To prevent that, once in awhile, buy yourself something ... or better yet, give yourself a decadent treat. I love things with dark chocolate or berries. Crepes with ice cream and berries are one of my favorites. Just don't go overboard ... and learn to enjoy the splurge to the fullest. If you truly take the time to enjoy a treat, you don't need a lot of it.
Track your successes. It doesn't really matter how you track your success ... you can use gold stars for creating a new simplifying or frugalfying habit, or a spreadsheet chart to track your decreasing debt and increasing savings or investments. Tracking is a great way to not only provide motivation, but make the process of changing fun.
Reward yourself. And in order to make it more fun, celebrate every little success! Set rewards for yourself (hopefully not too expensive!) along your path to success - celebrate one day, two days, three days, a week, two weeks, three, a month ... you get the idea.
Volunteer. One of the most rewarding things for my family has been when we have managed to volunteer. It's actually something we only started doing last year, but since then, we've done it a bunch of times in a number of different ways. And while it doesn't cost a dime, it is tremendously satisfying in ways that money could never buy.
Live in the moment. Learn to think not so much about the past or future, but about what you are going through right now. Be present. It may seem trite, but it's the key to enjoying life to the fullest - without having to spend money. Think about it - you can spend money on eating out, but if you are not really thinking about what you're eating, you may not enjoy it much at all. But if you cook a simple but delicious meal, and really taste every bite, it can be tremendously enjoyable without costing a lot.
Slow down. In the same way, you can't really enjoy life to the fullest if it's rushing past you like it's on fast forward. Ever think about how quickly a week, a month, or a year goes by? Perhaps you're in the fast lane too much. Try slowing down, and things will be less stressful and more enjoyable. Drive slower, eat slower,
Learn to find cheap, cool stuff. Call me crazy, but I love shopping at thrift stores. You can find so many cool things there, and it costs so little. Garage sales are the same way. Or check out Freecycle.
Leo Babauta is the author of the newly-released book, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials in Work and in Life. He is also the creator of the blog, Zen Habits.